With so many free online language apps to choose from, we have to ask the question: is it still worth taking a formal language class?
We’ve all been there. That feeling of beginners enthusiasm. You reach for your phone several times a day, amazed by your own progress. You show everyone down the pub your new language app and even impress them by ordering your drinks in Japanese (to the bewilderment of the bartender).
As the days and weeks roll on, you find this enthusiasm starts to dwindle. The phrases begin to feel repetitive, and although you are getting a lot of the grammar right, you’re not quite sure why certain rules apply (and Googling the answer only leads you down a rabbit hole).
You start forgetting to log in; and when your mate down the pub introduces you to their second cousin visiting from Kyoto, you suddenly feel too self-conscious to say a word. You doubt your pronunciation and realise that, unless you randomly announce to the group that you have brown hair, you actually have very little to contribute towards a conversation.
Confidence knocked, you decide to have a little break from the apps. You receive notifications on your phone reminding you to do your daily practice and the guilt starts to creep in. The notifications are muted, the app is soon forgotten and all your left with is that sinking sense of disappointment.
Of course there are plenty benefits of apps to help you learn a language. But to use them to replace live and interactive classes, well it’s just not the same thing. Like the time in 1997 when your dad bought you a Tamagotchi instead of a puppy. I doubt you would have forgotten to feed your puppy, and definitely wouldn’t have traded it after three weeks for a packet of Opal Fruits and an Irn-Bru.
So, what makes language classes a more successful way to learn?
1. You’re joining a supportive community
Let’s face it. Daily apps can feel monotonous and, quite frankly, lonely. When you join a language class, learning becomes a shared experience. You greet one another, talk about recent events – increasingly more in your chosen language – and support each other.
You realise that other people also struggle with pronunciation and your tutor shares fun ways to improve this. You begin to form friendships. You get one-to-one support. You start to look forward to seeing one another each week and even organise a film night to watch the latest anime. This sense of community is near impossible to achieve with a language app.
2. You will build confidence
For many of us Brits, language apps are perfect. We can learn the language without having to actually embarrass ourselves engaging in conversation. No wonder these apps have such widespread appeal!
There is just one small problem with this approach, though. The only way to really learn a language is to have a go. As much as we would love to burrow away in our rooms and reappear three months later fluent in Japanese, in reality, you will make little practical process if you don’t practice with others.
This means putting ourselves in a vulnerable position and being open to making mistakes. Many, many mistakes! This is what language classes encourage you to do. There’s no hiding behind an app, you’re pushed out of your comfort zone and into real life conversations.
But the beauty of language classes is that we’re all in the same boat. Everyone is just as scared and everyone is just as inexperienced as you are. Tutors create a safe and supportive environment so that you can have a go and make mistakes. And next time you meet a local, you’ll feel confident and prepared.
3. You’ll go beyond basic phrases
Most language learning apps will take you through a standard list of sentences and over time you begin to recognise words and their meaning. They tend to use repetition to remember phrases, which can be effective, but also quite tedious.
In live classes, you’ll learn the tools to create your own sentences and engage in free-flowing conversations about topics that are relevant to you. They don’t continually repeat phrases but revisit them within different contexts to solidify and expand your understanding. This is a much more engaging way to learn.
4. You’ll learn about culture and customs
A good language class shouldn’t just teach you how to communicate, but also how to understand the language within a cultural and historical context. This helps you to abide by social norms and be respectful when you use the language. It also makes learning a lot more fun! You’ll examine newspaper articles, listen to audio clips and watch videos to fully immerse yourself into your chosen language.
5. The content is tailored around you
One of my gripes of language learning apps is the one-size-fits all approach. There’s no flexibility to tailor content around your interests and, worse still, there’s no chance to ask questions or seek clarity.
Learning is a lot more interesting and useful if you can apply it directly to your own experiences and situations. It’s a great way to get to know your fellow classmates too.
Opportunities to ask questions can also help us to understand the language better. Rather than just accepting a rule of a language, we can find out why this rule exists –it’s much easier to learn when things make sense!
6. You’re making a commitment
The problem with apps is that they are too easy to quit. They can send you a dozen emails and daily reminders but the fact is there is no accountability. If you participate in a live class, you will have a dedicated time to learn. People look forward to seeing you each week. You’re set homework you’ll need to complete. This commitment encourages you to go the distance.
So that’s it. Are languages classes worth it? Yes. Unless, of course, you own a Tamagotchi.